How to Seek a Composer Assistant Job / Internship
This blog was originally published by Designing Music Now. (Please acknowledge Designing Music Now if you pass this along to your students etc)
Being a composer’s assistant is one possible path you can take early in your career in order to become a successful composer down the line. Many of the top composers today have begun their careers as assistants to a senior composer. It’s the old “guild” system of craftsmen where the craftsmanship is passed on from the older generation to the younger generation via apprenticing and learning on the job. However, keep in mind that this “apprentice” path does not automatically guarantee upward mobility or career. You could get stuck as an assistant or additional composer for a decade.
When you are working as a Composer Assistant or Score Technical Assistant, your job is to make the life of your composer boss easier. It’s not an easy job. Assistants work endless, grueling hours and nights. Your ability to focus, pace yourself, be in optimal health, and not get burned is paramount.
To become a Composer’s Assistant, you must possess a PACKAGE OF QUALITIES that busy professionals seek. This package includes exceptional character, personality, can-do attitude (in the first place), and then, fantastic skills in various areas of music and technology.
You must be someone who is reliable and will not flake out under extreme pressure, as there is always extreme pressure in our business. You must have passion, dedication, and commitment to whatever the task is.
The composer’s career is on the line, the stakes are always extremely high. There are always tight deadlines, temperamental producers and tons of money on the line. Composers are always spending someone else’s money. There are creative problems to be solved, budgetary problems to be solved, new picture cuts, revisions, shifting deadlines, stress, and an endless list of technical tasks to be done by the assistant. You should be able to think on your feet, yet able to follow direction.
In this business, you will work with trade secrets and proprietary materials, so being trustworthy is a must. Your boss must trust that you will respect the Non-Disclosure Agreement they are legally bound by.
Lastly, you must be honest, humble, and hard working.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR ROLE and HOW TO NOT GET FIRED
Make sure to respect the ranks and know your place – schmoozing your boss’ supervisors and approaching them behind his back for your own composer’s agenda is the surest way to get fired on the spot! As is: not showing up after making a commitment, losing a hard drive with data, not setting up a recording session properly, not backing up data religiously, arguing with your boss (the boss is always right!), leaking NDA information on Social Media, and other similar acts of breach of trust, lack of professionalism and technical savvy.
REQUIRED TECHNICAL SKILLS
Working as a composer’s assistant requires you to possess many different technical and professional skills. Your music production skills must be top notch because you will be asked to do a variety of tasks, such as mock-ups, synth programming, orchestration, notation, take-downs (transcriptions), etc.
Know fluently all current software. Many composers use CUBASE, others are on DIGITAL PERFORMER or LOGIC, and some are on PROTOOLS. All use Vienna Pro and Kontakt. All use tons of soft synths (Omnisphere, Zebra, Output and many others). Many composers use SIBELIUS while others use FINALE for score notation.
All composers delegate menial tech tasks to their assistants so they can focus on being creative and on their relationships with the director and studio. The composer’s mind must be free of technical problems, To-Do lists, score production minutiae and “noise” so it’s fully focused instead on creativity, revisions, deliverables, pleasing the director & studio and watching his back like a hawk for studio politics and curveballs.
So you, as his/her Score Technical Assistant must be fluent in every aspect of technology and be able to carry the daily load of grunt work – all technical and workflow tasks (sequencing, fleshing out the mock-ups for presentations, setting up files, editing files after endless new picture cuts and picture changes, backing up data, installing new sample libraries, dubbing music cues to picture for playback meetings with the director, and never-ending similar tech tasks).
MUSICALITY, EAR and PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS
You must also have a well-developed ear and well-rounded musicality. The more talented, musically sophisticated and skilled you are, the more valuable and indispensable you would be to your boss. They will throw at you ANY and EVERY task in testing the limits of your knowledge and skills. Where you fail, the task will instantly be given to someone else to do.
To be a great assistant, develop excellent problem-solving skills. Be resourceful, flexible, and accommodating. And finally, have an insatiable desire to learn, grow, and acquire new musical skills daily.
Listen to one soundtrack CD every day, so that when your boss mentions a score, or style, or specific reference, you will know what they are talking about. WATCH A LOT OF MOVIES and be passionate about movies, games or whatever your media of choice is.
HOW TO GET HIRED
90% of the good hires happen via internal connections and referrals. If you have no direct connection with the composer, you will need to be vetted in by a colleague, organization, teacher, or any other referral. When applying to become a composer’s assistant, keep these questions in mind:
Am I proficient in technology?
Am I a team player?
How refined are my collaborative and people skills?
Am I reliable and professional?
Am I self-motivated, organized, and super-attentive to detail?
Am I enterprising, curious, and willing to go outside my comfort zone?
Do I have an insatiable desire to learn?
Am I talented and committed to continuous development of my talent and skills?
Can I handle stress, put out fires, and roll with the punches with a smile on my face and never-ending sense of humor?
Am I defensive and insecure, or am I able to turn everything into a positive, learning experience, no matter how harsh it may feel at the time?
BE VERY PATIENT AND PERSISTENT.
Check in with your contacts once every 5-6 months to see if an opportunity has presented itself. Composers teams may change. Your initial email pitch is like planting a seed. Your follow-up is like cultivating this seed to grow into a tree. If and when that tree will bear fruit, there is no way of knowing. If you plant MANY seeds, chances are some of them will come to fruition. Hundreds of fresh graduates have contacted me only once. I replied that currently I did not have an opening. I never heard back from them again. In our business the Art of the Follow-through is vital. (I don’t have any openings right now, please don’t pitch me.)
Do NOT write more than 3-4 sentences in your email pitch, or any communication.
— Who you are (your name and who is referring you – teacher, past client),
— What is your agenda (e.g., to find an assistantship or internship),
— how useful are you to the composer (write your Tech skills and software),
— thank them for their time.
In your FOLLOW-UP communications, give report on your professional growth and body of work. People in Hollywood get impressed by genuine talent, consistent growth, and fast accumulation of *substantial credits* / body of work. If they see on IMDB that you have credits as a Score Tech Assistant on 10 studio movies in one year (all within one year), or have scored 10 short films in one year, they will most likely be checking you out. Because they see A PROOF that you are talented, skilled, ambitious, focused, passionate about learning. And busy!
I wish you the best of luck in finding the best Assistantship!